Thursday, April 26, 2007

Day 10: Tam Duong – Sapa

“Gorilla in the mist”

One of the epic days in all my travels. The short version of the day was supposed to be this: 10km climb to start, descend down to 600m and then climb the big one to Tran Tom Pass (pictured) before a 9km descent down to Sapa. The detail, however, is more revealing.

The day started brutally with a 10km climb. On the way up I had an Australian couple I’d met previously pull over to the side of the road and cheer me over the crest. They were taking a video as well, which I would love to get hold of. I re-passed them on the descent and pulled into Bin Linh for a soothing tea while I waited for Mirco. He pedalled in 20 minutes later and we shared a pot of tea in nervous anticipation of the big climb ahead. We posed for a ceremonial photo at the foot of the climb before heading off. On the way out of town I saw some Hmong Thai – probably the most elaborately dressed of all – and pulled over to say hello to a few of them before getting mobbed. I continued up the climb and it started to cool down after a few kms, at which time I stopped a mountain tribeswoman on the side of the road and offered to buy her hat. She accepted (US$4) and I was on my way with a decorative hat that would attract plenty of attention later on.

About 12kms up a couple of young kids (pictured left) decided it would be a great test to ride with me. I have to hand it to them, on ancient steeds they managed to stay with me for 3kms, with one of them in particular a real natural. When they peeled off I stopped and took a photo of them to mark their effort.

From there the really tough part of the climb kicked in and I tackled the steep sections with a reasonably good rhythm. The legs were good and I was making progress until I went through the cloudline and the mist had a buckling effect on me. I also realised I hadn’t eaten enough and had no food with me to address the hunger flat. I had a single Werthers toffee with me and forced myself to ride 3kms before I could indulge, just one of a thousand small mental games you play with yourself on a climb like that. The last 4kms were unbelievably difficult: cold, zero visibility, headwind and extremely hungry. Not knowing when the climb would finish made it even worse.

I crested the summit a full three hours from the bottom and stopped at the top to commemorate the achievement with a photo (pictured below). I was then expecting a nice 9km descent down to Sapa, but it was anything but. Instead, the driving rain ensured that the roadworks between the summit and Sapa were transformed into a brown soup. The surface was like a skating rink, and the descent took more than an hour. I was frozen, covered in mud and still hadn’t eaten. The visibility on the approach to town was down to 20 metres and I had a couple of nervous moments trying to negotiate trucks coming the other way.

The physical job done I then had the mental one of finding accommodation. I asked for the Auberge – the place the Belgians mentioned they would be staying – and found it eventually. I was devastated when the Auberge staff wouldn’t let me in due to the state of me and the bike. Shivering, emotional and physically shattered (pictured below) I was approached by a young girl offering alternative accommodation next door. I accepted and within minutes was in the hot shower thawing out, washing my gear at the same time.

Had a massive lunch of hot pot and fried rice but felt guilty that Mirco still have to come through the same stretch of road. Tried unsuccessfully to hire a car to pick Mirco up, and went to our rendezvous spot (the church) on the hour as planned. At 5pm he still wasn’t in and I started asking around at hotels whether he’s made it in. At 5.40pm there was a shout across the town square and it was Mirco – looking like I did three and a bit hours earlier. He had broken a spoke and detached his rear derailleur on the descent, rendering the bike almost useless.

Met up for dinner with Mirco, Magali and Filip for great hot pot and good conversation. We all lamented how different the hill tribe people were in Sapa. Where they had been shy and retiring in their natural environs, here they were speaking English fluently and happy to engage (and well) with westerners. The lowlight was watching two Hmong Thai women playing pool in a bar later that night. Despite this, Sapa is a beautiful looking town and will stay here for a day or so. I’ll need that time to thaw….

1 comment:

dtazik said...

Would you let this funky-looking guy into your home -- I don't think so! ":~)